madeincharlie: A Day In The Life Of Chris Gibbs Tell me about...
A Day In The Life Of Chris Gibbs
Tell me about Union, where it began and how you fit in?
I moved to New York to go to school and it is here where I started working for Union. The owners are the same people who own Supreme. They were known at the time to be a place where young up and coming clothing designers could break and deconstruct their clothes. The big thing that our store helped to start and promote was the beginnings of streetwear genre. So, I worked there, ran and managed the store and became the buyer. After that I moved here to Los Angeles.
Who do you think made their mark in the early streetwear scene?
Probably the biggest designer would be adidas. Now it seems really crazy for me to say this, but their Originals line, which is where they use the three-leaf, that did not exist in the past. They started a line where they brought back all their classic shoes, called Originals. They started it in America in three stores: Union in New York, Union in Los Angeles, and Harputsin San Francisco, which had a good heritage with them.
Who was shopping at the store at that time?
In particular, Union had a following with Japanese clientele. The Japanese did a lot of parallel buying. They would send people over here to buy clothing in America that they couldn’t get back home, and then sell it in Japan.
Can you tell me more about the impact of the Japanese market in streetwear fashion?
As a natural progression from doing trade with the Japanese, and as the genre of streetwear blew up and became very commercial, Union had to figure out where it fitted into the game. As a very small boutique, we couldn’t compete with the major stores, so we started buying the Japanese iteration of the streetwear. They would buy it from us, take it, make it something different, and then do their own thing with it. We started buying back the Japanese brands, and what they did in particular, is they took the clothes and made them of a higher quality.
You mention that Japanese designers modified the garments. Can you elaborate on this?
They would take a hoodie, or jeans for example that we would buy for sixty or eighty dollars, and make it out of a cashmere blend transforming it to a three hundres dollar piece, but with the same sensibilities that a young person would want to wear – not like Loro Piana or something. There was a small but pretty concentrated cult following that appreciated that kind of stuff, like jeans that cost anywhere from three hundred to eight hundred dollars a pair. To this day it hasn’t been coined, and I’m embarrassed to be able to coin it, but this phenomena is “luxury streetwear”. Union has a really strong relationship with Japan, and I would say almost 70% of our store carries Japanese lines shipped to the States.
Do you travel over there?
Yes, you have to. I mainly go to Tokyo. I’ve been to Osaka once, it was a beautiful city. I compare Osaka to San Francisco, or LA, and Tokyo being New York, so it’s a little more beautiful to look at, and a little bit smaller.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Japan?
Teyandei Shibuya, Tokyo.
If you could sum up the streetwear community you embrace, with some phrases, what would they be?
Streetwear is to fashion what Punk, Hip Hop and Jazz were to mainstream music. It started as a youth driven counter-culture but as it matures, it gets more sophisticated. Our store, specifically represents the more sophisticated side of this style of clothing. This more refined version now attracts customers that may not have ever been into it before. Creative, open-minded and sometimes older clientele are now appreciating the witty and creative sensibilities of streetwear. I refer to it as “Luxury Street”.